|The Edge of the Sky by Roberto Trotta|
|Category: Popular Science|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A vital science book, showing how friendly particle physics can be to the reader when the right words are used to describe it. Well worth a look.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: October 2014|
|Publisher: Basic Books|
Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do. Apparently that's advice to budding journalists and writers, and I do try to follow the English translation of it, if not completely successfully. Someone who seems to have no trouble whatsoever in agreeing with the dictum is Roberto Trotta. This book is his survey of current astrophysics and cosmological science, but one that has to convey everything it intends to by using only the most common thousand words of the English language. So there is no Big Bang as such, planets have to be called Crazy Stars – and it's soon evident you can't even describe the book with the word thousand either.
It's surprising what constraints this process puts on the writer. There are hardly any numbers in that common thousand (sorry, ten hundred) so Trotta must use imaginative comparisons to get his data across. He has to fudge issues somewhat when he talks about commonly known things, just to stick to the self-imposed demands – the group of stars near us looks like a white road running right across the sky. So we call it the White Road he lies. He even cheats somewhat, when describing the down-graded Pluto as a minute Crazy Planet when sure that common word is minute as in time and not minute (my newt) as in scale.
But the most important thing is that all this is clear, and boy is it clear. Yes some of it is a little woolly, but that's probably when we're talking about the immediate post-Big Bang onrush of particles and their interactions, whilst the universe (the All-There-Is) was undergoing a darkly foggy but highly energetic expansion. Elsewhere the book can skip lightly through thousands of years of science history, and canter over the death of heliocentricity and the location of earth in its rightful place in the universe, even whilst never 'correctly' naming any other body beyond the Sun.
This book then is the one to tell you all you probably need to know about dark matter and the dearth of antimatter, of gigantic neutrino detectors deep in Antarctic ice, exoplanets and more, and have everything sink in. It further removes itself from the regular science book by being dressed as a long short story of a female scientist seeking the big truths of the world over a night spent at a Hawaiian observatory. I'm not sure quite what that adds, beyond the recognition of how much we might have yet to learn, but it takes this book and puts it in the realm of a host of mystical, romantically-styled fiction authors. The fact Trotta can add a romantic edge to particle physics shows what a great communicator he is, and why I want to be equally clear when I say this book was almost as good as I hoped, knowing the premise, and will be more important than any other science book I will read for a very long time. If it went further, stuck to the chronology of science and didn't drop us in at the deep end (albeit with many buoyancy aids on) early on, it would have been remarkable.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe by Evalyn Gates is a more standard book that we found tried so hard to convey the subject so easily.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Edge of the Sky by Roberto Trotta at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Edge of the Sky by Roberto Trotta at Amazon.com.
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